Sheffield United take one small step, but face a big Sander Berge blow

Sheffield United took a “small step” forward at Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday, but their second point of the season was overshadowed by the news they will be without Sander Berge for three months after surgery.

SURGERY: Sheffield United midfielder Sander Berge
SURGERY: Sheffield United midfielder Sander Berge

The Norwegian midfielder was the Blades’ record signing in January – striker Rhian Brewster eclipsed that in September – and has arguably been their best player in a difficult start to the season which has seen them go winless in their first 14 Premier League games. They looked to have broken the spell when, despite John Lundstram’s first-half red card, they led Brighton 1-0 going into yesterday’s final minutes.

Danny Welbeck’s 87th-minute volley meant they had to settle for a point which doubles their tally for the season, but is arguably still not enough for a side who went into the game nine from safety.

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Heartened by the spirit his side showed for 50 minutes with a man fewer but downbeat at the way the game ended, Wilder argued his side has no choice but to plough on in the same vein, even without Berge.

“When you get that close (to winning) it’s disappointing not to see the game out,” admitted Wilder. “Down to ten men 50 minutes out it’s going to be a long afternoon but I thought the team showed some real qualities in terms of ambition to try and get that first goal, which we did and their determination and desire to keep the ball out of the back of the net, which we had to late on.

“We’re disappointed with the equaliser in the 87th minute and then it’s a long seven minutes, it seemed but we managed it. It’s a small step for us after Thursday’s night’s performance (in a 3-2 defeat at home to Manchester United, which I was content with.”

Lundstram’s three-match suspension compounds the injury to fellow midfielder Berge.

“I’ve just been on the phone to John Gannon and Bob Booker so I think they’ll be in training on Monday morning!” joked Wilder. “I might give TC (Tony Currie) a call.

“It’s a huge blow for us with Sander being out for three months. We’ve got to chop and change and try and find a way to put out a competitive team.

“It was a really unfortunate injury, a bit of a freak injury. He went to block the ball, he caught it on the end of his toe and it’s ripped the tendon’s away from the bone. He’ll require surgery.”

The Blades are fighting an uphill struggle to save themselves from relegation, but the manager is adamant they have to follow the course that has brought them from League One to the verge of Europa League qualification.

“If we don’t show the right attitude, we’re gone, we’re toast,” he said.

“We can’t afford and I won’t allow Southampton to become a regular performance because if it is we’ve got no chance. At least there’s a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel after the last two games.

“I don’t see another avenue we can go down. It is this way and this is the only way. Nothing is going to happen in January that is head-turning, we’ve got no incredible players to come back into the team. For me it’s the only avenue we can go down.”

Wilder saw Lundstram’s dismissal for using excessive force in a tackle with Joel Veltman as a borderline decision. Lundstram got a touch on the ball first, but thumped into the wing-back with his studs showing.

Referee Peter Bankes initially showed a yellow card but changed it to a red after consulting the pitchside monitor.

“It must have been borderline because the VAR didn’t say straight away it was a red card, they said go to the monitor,” Wilder pointed out.

“I’ve not seen it back but I did have an inkling the longer it went on that it would get turned over from yellow to red. I don’t think there was any malice in the tackle.”

His opposite number Graham Potter thought it was a clear red card, but stressed Veltman’s half-time withdrawal was not a result of being injured in the tackle.

“It was a hefty challenge but it was a tactical (substitution),” he said.

“I thought it was a red card at that speed and to go over the top you’re asking for trouble.”

Wilder saw no point in appealing the decision.

His side are eight points from safety after 14 games, with relegation rivals Burnley playing on Monday.

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